Baseball Short Story
Very Superstitious - 1
Joe Trezza, 2018 World Series Program
From lucky gum to spicy salsa, baseball's long history of rituals
makes everything more interesting.
The long, storied history of baseball superstitions took a spicy turn in 2018, the senti­ment that con­nects it all - from curses and billy goats to black cats to codes of silence - reemerging under the spring sun of a suburban St. Louis backyard. That's where Cardi­nals infielder Matt Carpenter, mired in a career-worst slump at the time, literally plant­ed the seeds for what would become one of the more sensational second-half turnarounds ever.
Those seeds spawned jalapeños. They grew in a garden built for Carpenter by his longtime team­mate, Adam Wainwright. Carpenter harvested them himself, and that's all he'll say about the home­made salsa he spins from them other than that, suddenly, the eight-year Major League veteran can't play a game without it.
"Since the All-Star break," Carpenter said, "I haven't missed a day."
From the outside looking in, there are myriad explanations for how the Cardinals, sputtering around .500 for the season's first 100 games, sprinted their way toward Octo­ber behind a historic late-summer push. They changed their manager. They revamped their bullpen. They handed their roster over to a platoon of talented prospects. Carpenter morphed into an MVP candidate.
But for Carpenter and others in the Cardinals clubhouse, the answer is simple: It's the salsa. Mild but potent, and increasingly popular. Its powers mysterious but palpable. Carpenter began growing the ingredients in mid-May, when he was hitting .140. He started snacking on it before every game in July, at which point he'd swung himself back to a respectable .263/.373/,530 line.

L-R: Matt Carpenter, Wade Boggs, Nomar Garciaparra, Reggie Jackson
But the salsa didn't become a thing until the weeks that followed, when Carpenter be­gan bringing it on the road, making it available to his teammates, and crediting it for his surge into the record books. There was the six-game stretch when Carpenter homered eight times (and in all six games). There was the one-week stretch when he hit. 529, and the 30-game span when he flirted with slugging .700. By the end of August, Carpenter was on the cusp of becoming the first Cardinal to notch 40 doubles and 40 homers since Albert Pujols in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals sprinted to the top of the NL Wild Card standings.
"I don't have an explanation for it," Carpenter admitted. "It's just not who I am. It's not who I was. It's not the hitter I've ever been. I'm developing into somebody I've never dreamed of or tried to be."
In the larger scope of things, Carpenter's salsa-fueled summer is less an outlier than it is a modern spin on one of baseball's most enduring themes. Baseball has always been a game bound to belief, full of conviction in vague requirements for fortune. Wade Boggs famously mapped out his pregame rou­tine by the minutes, convinced he'd fail if he didn't adhere to its exact schedule. Nomar Garciaparra unwrapped his batting gloves after ev­ery pitch, in anxious unease.
Reggie Jackson wore the same helmet from team to team. Jim Leyland didn't change his boxers. The list goes on and on.